Playing Electronic Music Live
The reason why I can play live without my own instruments and without much preparation beforehand is because we always improvise in our concerts. This doesn’t mean that we are completely free to play anything, we are supposed to make the audience dance, that’s why we are flexible…
The concept of improvisation
Let’s start with the extended term “improvisation”. The core of this word is “vision”, the meaning of which, I think, does not need to be explained. If we continue analyzing the term we come across “provision,” in the sense of foresight. “Unforeseeing” is the negation of the meaning, which refers to those moments in a gig when you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Anyone faced with a new situation has to improvise. In this sense, improvising diatonic scales is not improvisation, because the harmonic progression is known to the soloist and he is the one who will normally depend on the members of his group to supply him with a solid musical foundation for his solo. So far so predictable.
Making mistakes, not making mistakes
Improvisation only begins when something goes wrong. And there we have possibly the most archaic and fundamental concept, albeit controversial, addressed in Philosophy. When it comes to assessing or even judging, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you have to decide between only two possibilities.
Nothing is so simple as to be black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. If you are on stage wanting to play an F chord, but suddenly you get a G, the first thing you will experience is the effect of adrenaline. Before you even know what exactly happened you’ll notice that you’re not where you wanted to be. Emergency! …
… But wait a second… The show must go on and what is driving you crazy is just one note. And there you are, having to improvise right now and knowing that it’s all up to you.
You can leave the stage totally embarrassed or have the audience not even notice your mistake. In the best case scenario you can even take advantage of it in some way: You can repeat the note G every time you should play F and listen to the new melody – a new idea has been born. If you are lucky to have a band whose members are attentive and talented, they will start improvising with you because something has changed.
What we do on stage is exclusively what I just explained in the last two sentences. This has extreme consequences:
- Unexpected concerts are highly desirable, albeit with certain limits.
- Incorrect chords no longer exist.
- We develop a full-time job on stage.
At best it is a constant flow of new ideas or a satisfying struggle managing fluctuations.
The needs of the public
And now the most important thing: The audience. Don’t forget about the people in front of you.
Anyone who has witnessed the performance of an inexperienced improvised jazz band may know how difficult it can be to empathize with these musicians. If you don’t connect with your audience, they can’t connect with your music.
In our case contact with the people on the dance floor is established by ear. In most places the audience is not a silent group of people. They dance, they enjoy themselves, they have a good time and they want to be entertained. Entertainment is the cure for boredom and music that is very repetitive usually bores people, especially if it is presented sloppily.
When you play something the audience has been waiting for, you’ll notice they enjoy it when they make noise. When they anticipate the feeling of more direct sounds they will make another noise. Our experience with this has brought us to the point where the audience is really adding to the show and giving us indications of how much we are entertaining them.
This has a direct effect on what we’re going to play in the next song. If the audience wants an extended crescendo, we play it. And this was not part of our repertoire at all, rather it manifests the moment when it was most desired.
In conclusion I can say that the most important thing is your ear. This may sound cliché, but your ears have more functions than just detecting mistakes. This is because live music is more than a sequence of notes played correctly. Live music is so alive because it can react to different influences and that is why it is so popular.